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Artillery Row

Why do conservatives think they are winning?

The right needs to understand that progressive intolerance is a strength, not a weakness

One problem with the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the 2019 General Election was the complacency that seeped into the bones of Britain’s right-wing. Everything was okay, order had been restored, the wisdom of the people had spoken et cetera. Somewhere beyond London, the fabled working class, in all its moderation, had stepped in to rescue the Conservatives. Panic over. Phew.

On Friday, Iain Martin offered an example of conservative conplacency in his Times column. Martin wrote about “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations, and specifically about the staff uprising at the New York Times that was incited by an editorial decision to publish an article by Senator Tom Cotton calling for the US military to be deployed to put down riots.

Martin’s is a somewhat bloodless account of the most shameless flip-flop in modern history, in which progressive pundits who have been telling us not to go within ten miles of our loved ones on the pain of death are cheering as thousands of people herd themselves together, howling and hollering as COVID-rich droplets sail through the crowd.

Either these commentators still believe coronavirus is a threat to hundreds of thousands of lives and have simply concluded that the prolonged existence of the old and vulnerable is less important than protesting the killings of unarmed black people – of which there was perhaps one in the UK last year and between 18 and 25 in the US, depending on whether you believe replica weapons count as arms, many of which occurred when people attacked police officers – or they have changed their minds and yet decided not to say. That the demonstrations have involved so much destruction and violence in the US, and attacks on the police and desecrating of memorials in the UK, only adds to the disgrace.

Of course, even one illegitimate killing is terrible, like that of George Floyd – and Robert Verbruggen has offered substantive ideas for police reform in National Review – but we must be clear about the morbid absurdity the protests have involved, and we must be clear because we cannot depend on its broad acknowledgement.

Martin writes that the intellectual advocates and enablers of the protests are “hyper-liberals” who have “grown so intolerant of opposition…that they have become illiberal.”

Where the establishment leads, the people tend to follow – not with much enthusiasm, maybe, but with grudging acceptance

“Mercifully,” he writes, “There is a flaw in hyper-liberalism. It will never be popular with most people because it rests on contempt for opposing views.” Why progressive intolerance has put them at a disadvantage is beyond me. Go back 50 years and say that marriage is between a man and woman, that biological sex defines one as male or female, that abortion is murder and that one’s nation is that in which one is born and people would say, “And?” Now, people would say, “Get away from me you appalling bigot.” You can think this change is positive, but you cannot deny that it has been accomplished in part because and not in spite of the aggressive and uncompromising nature of progressive politics. In 1965, the German-American Marxist Herbert Marcuse endorsed:

the sustained effort of radical minorities…minorities intolerant, militantly intolerant and disobedient to the rules of behaviour which tolerate destruction and suppression.

Can anyone deny that this ambition served progressives well? No one wants to be viewed as a bad, foolish, unfashionable person, so if you associate opinions with badness, foolishness and being low status then you have a good chance of getting people to quietly disassociate themselves from them.

Now, progressives have the additional advantage of elite acceptance of most of their opinions. If you merely say that you do not believe in “white privilege”, or that “all lives matter”, you might find yourself suspended from your job, like Stu Peters, the presenter of the Late Show on Manx Radio, or fired, like Grant Napear, an NBA broadcaster. Fear can achieve what moralism cannot.

Martin writes that the “majority of Britons” are “too sensible” to fall for hyper-liberalism, and that leftists will have to moderate themselves to win back “sensible working-class voters in the North of England, where the last thing they want is to be bossed around by hyper-liberals.” No doubt, vandalising memorials to Churchill and insisting that Britons repent of the sins of their fathers is not a vote-winning strategy. But a narrow focus on electoral politics can blind us to how ideas spread through the managerial state, where, under a Conservative government, the Department of Education is advising its staff to listen to NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police” to understand the suffering of BAME communities. Where the establishment leads, the people tend to follow – not with much enthusiasm, maybe, but with grudging acceptance. The average voter might not have been a big fan of unprecedented immigration and pre-emptive war, but Tony Blair was still elected on three occasions.

What about Brexit? Well, Brexit, whatever one thinks of it, was a cause which dedicated activists campaigned for over many years, building arguments and institutions with unique patience until their time had come. It did not simply arise from the folk wisdom of sensible northern working class Brits. So, this is not a counsel of despair, but it is a counsel of care. One can never assume that one’s values will prevail by their very nature.

The left, being wiser propagandists than conservatives, are never satisfied that their ideas are accepted. They are always trying to extend their reach. Perhaps people who oppose their worldview should spend less time mocking them and more time learning from them: their ambition, their energy, their delight in organising, their talent for bending institutions to their will. It is pleasant to imagine cheerful shires in which salt of the earth Englishmen fly the flag with timeless common sense, but it is also a fantasy – and even in the fantasy the Shire was lost.

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